Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
WHEN LOOKING at the world with the eyes of the seer, we shall find that the people who are called wise and those who are called foolish are much nearer to each other than they are ordinarily thought to be; their different occupations are much more similar than they generally seem in the unbalanced conditions of life.
Balance is something which is rarely found, among mystics or among others. When we become interested in something, it is our nature to want more and more of it; it makes no difference whether it is spiritual or material. If we become very spiritual we lose the world; and if we were not meant to live in this world we would not have been sent here.
The one who sees the good in others will see more and more good. The one who has a fault-finding tendency will find so many faults that at last the good will seem bad in his eyes. Then the eyes themselves will become bad. There is much more chance of a fall for a person who is running than for one who is walking; the excess of activity brings about the fall.
Sometimes a person has no balance in telling the truth.
He says, 'I tell the truth', regardless of whether it is
in harmony with his surroundings and whether people are
prepared to hear that truth or not. He says, 'I tell the
truth, and I don't mind fighting with everybody because
I tell the truth!' Therefore the lesson of repose is the
most important one to be learnt for this purpose.
Activity tends to grow and to keep on growing, and by this the balance is lost. When we speak we are inclined to speak more and more, and we become so fond of speaking that we like to speak regardless of whether anyone wishes to listen or not. We say what we really do not wish to say; afterwards we wonder why we insulted such and such a person, or why we told him our secret. Sadi, the great Persian poet, says, 'O, intelligent one, of what use is thy intelligence, if afterwards thou repentest?' Whatever we do, whether good or bad, increases in us more and more. If one day a person thinks for five minutes about music or poetry, the next day that thought will continue for half an hour. If one has a little thought of bitterness, unconsciously the thought will grow until one's mind is full of bitterness. Every sin comes about in this way. Zarathushtra distinguished three kinds of sin: the sin of thought, the sin of speech, and the sin of action. To have the thought of bitterness, the thought of evil, is like doing evil; and to speak evil is also like doing evil. When a person commits an evil action, then it is as it were concrete.
We have gained balance of thought when we can see things not only from our own point of view, with the ideas and the feelings in which we are trained, but from all sides. The one-sided person has no balance. Suppose a man is very patriotic and sees everything from the point of view of patriotism, and he goes to a shop and demands that the shop-keeper sells him some things, for a patriotic purpose, for a very low price. But the shop-keeper may be a poor man, and even for a patriotic purpose he cannot sell his wares at that price. Then too he is a shop-keeper and he thinks of his trade; he cannot be expected to see with the other's patriotic eyes. One person thinks only of patriotism; another only of trade; and a third, who is a musician, says, 'They are crazy; music alone matters!' The poet says, 'Poetry is the only thing in the world'. Each of them thinks solely of that with which he is himself engaged. Thus the pious person may exaggerate his piety so much that there is nothing left in him but piety, which at last becomes hypocrisy.
But how, one may ask, can one achieve balance? First there is the balance of activity and repose, of sleeping and waking. If a person believes that by sleeping very much he will become great, and he accustoms himself to do so, he will become a monster instead of a man, because then his body, which is given to him in order to experience the world, is not used. And if one does not sleep at all, in a few days one will have a nervous break-down. If one fasts very much, certainly one will become ethereal; one will be able to see into the other world, into the other planes. If one has learnt the way of inspiration, inspiration will come. But this body, these senses, will become weak, so that one will not be able to experience this world, for which they were given to us.
In India there are mystics called Majzubs who go to the extreme of spirituality. Their external self is forgotten to such an extent that they leave the experience of this world altogether. But extremity in everything is undesirable, whether good or evil. To sleep and wake, to eat and fast, to be active and to be still, to speak and to be silent, that is to have balance.
A disciple was taught by Muhammad a practice by which he experienced ecstasy. After some days he came bringing fruit and flowers which he offered to the Prophet, thanking him greatly and saying, 'The lesson that you taught me has been of such great value to me; it has brought me such joy. My prayers, which used to last a few minutes, now last all day.' Muhammad said, 'I am glad that you liked the lesson, but please, from today, stop the practice!'
The Sufi teaches balance by posture and movement, which includes the control of the actions and the activity of the body; by the practice of Namaz, Wazifa, and Zikr he teaches the balance of the mind by concentration. To sit at home and close the eyes is not concentration; though the eyes are closed, the thoughts go on. It is important to choose the right object for concentration. By concentration and meditation a person experiences ecstasy; by the control of the self a person experiences the higher world or plane in which all things are one. For this the guidance of a murshid, a teacher, is needed, otherwise the balance will be lost; no one can accomplish this by himself. And if anyone could, he would become so interested in what he experienced there, that he would become absent from this world; absent-mindedness, even lunacy and many other evil consequences would result.
There is no greater happiness or bliss than ecstasy. A person is always thinking, 'I am this which I see; this small amount of flesh and blood and skin is I', but by ecstasy the consciousness is freed from the body, from this confinement, and then it experiences its true existence above all sorrow and pain and trouble. This is the greatest joy. To experience this and to keep control over the body and the senses, through which we experience all the life of this world, this is to have balance, this is the highest state.
It is not only strength or nervous energy that enables man to stand on earth. Besides muscular strength and nervous energy there is balance; it is balance which enables man to stand and walk without falling. One may have muscular strength and nervous energy, but in the absence of balance one will not be able to stand or walk. And when we think of the mind, is it reasoning, is it far-reaching imagination which makes man thoughtful? No, it is balance. There are many whose imagination is so great that they can float in the air for hours together, and there are others whose reason is so powerful that their thoughts go round and round and end nowhere. If there is anything that makes man really thoughtful, it is not great reasoning or far-reaching imagination; it is balance.
It is neither the deep feeling of the heart nor the living in spiritual ecstasy which make a person illuminated. A person can be in ecstasy, see visions, phenomena, and yet not be a spiritual person. A person may have religious ideas, live a pious life, have lofty ideals, yet even then he need not be an illuminated soul. This shows that in order to maintain one's body as it ought to be, and to keep the mind tuned to the right pitch, balance is necessary. When we study nature, we find that the growth of plants and the life of the trees all depend upon balance; and when we think of the cosmos and study the condition of the stars and planets, the main thing we realize is that one heavenly body holds the other. All destruction occurring in nature, such as volcanic eruptions, floods, earthquakes, comes from lack of balance. As long as nature keeps its balance, the abyss in the heart of the earth remains as it is, people can walk over it and not come to any harm.
Storms, famine, all bad conditions, also the plagues that visit mankind, are caused by the upsetting of that balance which secures the well-being of humanity. This teaches us that the secret of the existence of the individual as well as of the whole cosmos resides in balance. It would not be an exaggeration to say that all success and failure are caused by balance or by lack of it. Progress and lack of progress can be explained as coming from balance and lack of balance.
There is another idea connected with balance. Life is movement, and balance is something that controls it; but perfect balance controls movement too much, bringing it to a state of inertia. For instance if the strength of the right hand were equal to the strength of the left hand, if the right leg and the left leg were equal, man would not be able to work or to walk. If each of the two eyes had the same power of sight, a person would not be able to see. Everything is controlled by balance, but too much balance destroys it; for too much balance brings stillness. It is the ordinary balance which is not complete that brings about success. Art comes also from the balance of the sense of line and color, and genius in science comes from the balance between perception and conception.
The main problem is how to achieve balance, and how to maintain it. In regard to the former I would say that balance is natural, so there is no need to achieve it; the question is only how to maintain balance and not how to attain it. The influence of life in this active world always puts one off one's balance. No matter what direction one takes in life, no matter what one's occupation, one's business in life, there is always difficulty in maintaining balance. The Sufis therefore have found a key to this, and that key is to become isolated within oneself, thereby gaining complete balance within oneself. I have already said that perfect balance means destruction of action; but when one thinks that from morning till evening one's life is nothing but action, one naturally cannot keep this balance. But by devoting a few minutes to meditation, to silence, one can touch that complete balance for a moment; and then in one's active life a balance is maintained in a natural way.
Very often people make the mistake of thinking that by the help of meditation or silence they can bring about success in activity. If it brings about a successful result, it is only because balance in meditation makes one capable of maintaining the balance necessary for activity. The outer life depends upon the individual's inner condition. Success or failure, progress or standstill, whatever one's state of being, it all comes from the condition that a person is experiencing within himself. A man of common sense will say: for this reason or for that reason you have met with success or failure. A person who is clairvoyant will say that because a spirit or a ghost has said this or that the conditions will be worse or better. The astrologer will say that because this star is in its house or not in its house we are experiencing such and such conditions. But according to the Sufi the condition of the life around one depends absolutely on the condition of one's inner self; so what is needed to change the conditions in the outer life or to tune oneself, is to work on one's inner self to bring about the necessary balance. Once the balance is lost, it is brought back only with great difficulty. In the first place it is often difficult to keep balance in one's everyday life; and once the balance is lost, there is little hope of success, happiness, or progress. It is just like a clock getting out of order; it cannot go until it is put in proper balance again.
It is the same with the condition of the soul. If a person has lost his wealth, has become a spendthrift, has become thoughtless, it is a sign of loss of balance. To be too sad, to be too busy, to be too lazy, all these things show lack of balance. Anything that can be called excessive is always out of balance.
Balance is the state of individual progress and consideration for others. One-sidedness is lack of balance. When we cannot comprehend another person's idea there is lack of balance. At the same time it is difficult to point out exactly where and when there is balance. For instance the features of the Chinese are normal features for China; Greek or Roman features were normal for those times and those people. What we call normal is what is general, what everyone has. Therefore we can say that when it is the season for colds and coughs, colds and coughs are natural.
No doubt life is difficult for many of us, but very often we make it even more difficult for ourselves. When we do not understand the real nature and character of life, we make our own difficulties. In our life only five percent of our difficulties are caused by the conditions of life, and ninety-five percent are difficulties caused by ourselves. But in what way, one may ask, are they caused by ourselves? We do not want struggle in life, we dislike strife, we only want harmony and peace. It should be understood that before we can make peace, war is necessary, and that war must be waged with our self. Our worst enemy is our self, our faults, our weaknesses, and our limitations. And our mind is a traitor. It hides our faults even from our own eyes, and points to other people as the reason for all our difficulties. Thus it constantly deludes us, keeping us unaware of the real enemy, and urging us against others, to fight them, making us think that they are our enemies.
But besides this we must turn ourselves towards God. As we rise higher, so our point of view becomes higher, as high as our sight reaches. In this way when a person evolves more and more, his vision becomes wider and wider; and in all he does he will strike the divine note, which is healing and comforting and peace-giving to all souls.
Balance is the security of life; not only of one's own life, but balance helps to maintain all things around one. People in the East have always considered balance to be the chief thing to maintain in life; and the different exercises they have prescribed, whether in the form of religion or in the form of devotion, whether in the philosophical or in the psychic realm, have all been to maintain balance.